Part 1: How to Come Out (and Why!)
Part 3: Types of Atheists
In my time as an atheist, I’ve learned quite a few things about the entire deconversion process. Once you are out, and especially if you go vocal on Facebook and/or live in the Bible Belt (or were at all involved in churches), various believers will react to you in different ways. To that end, I wanted to create a sort of catalog of believers’ reactions that many of us experience. Many of these stereotypes are focused on Facebook conversations, but also spill over into the real world.
For the Theists that read my blog, I apologize if I offend, but this guide is written towards people who are deconverting, and you may not fit into any of these generalized categories, nor be okay with the labels attached. Feel free to critique my assessment in the comments section.
1. The Watchers
There will be quite a few of your friends who have never gone beyond a ‘faith-walker’ status, who will believe whatever any pastor or parent tells them. They may not possess the critical-thinking abilities to see the gaping intellectual inconsistencies in theism, and therefore are generally incapable of understanding your deconversion. However, they also probably won’t engage you in discussion, and will merely stand by and watch.
There are also those whose faith is so shallow that they are incapable of enduring any sort of perceived threat to it. Though talking about your atheism may hardly count as a challenge in your eyes, remember they may not have the tools you had at your disposal to rationalize objections. They might defriend you, stop receiving updates, or ignore you out in public, and that’s fine. These people often adhere to the anti-woman, bigoted, shallow views of human rights and social issues, and use their infantile faith as a cover for their bigotry.
Many people are incapable of realizing the freedom that atheism offers, for whatever reason, and there are quite a few reasons we humans have been inventing religions ever since we first existed on the Savannahs of Africa. There is no shame in this, since it is a fact of life, and indoctrination can be a very powerful thing.
Dealing with the Watchers
Don’t worry about them. If they ever grow to a point where they might join you in freedom, then they’ll be the one to get in touch with you. Don’t be offended over their leaving or defriending; this isn’t personal, it is usually that they are incapable of seeing your updates and maintaining their faith.
My personal M.O. is to never comment directly on someone else’s Facebook status, unless it is so egregious as to warrant the permanent loss of their friendship. To that end, I don’t directly force my views on them, and I never initiate conversation on the topic directly unless asked. This avoids the “you’re forcing your beliefs on everyone else” argument, as anyone at any time is free to ignore what we have to say.
2. The Victim
Your deconversion is about them, not you. These people are similar to watchers who defriend, but make it explicitly clear that it’s your fault, and your actions caused them irrevocable harm. This is a manipulation and coping tactic that cannot be endorsed and must be met head-on. From wikipedia,
Manipulators often play the victim role (“poor me”) by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from another.
As I identified in part 1, my father falls into this category. Vicims often react with a hypocritical bravado of religious showiness to combat the cognitive dissonance their self-appointed blame generates. Thus, they become even more pious, rather than actually seek to resolve their cognitive dissonance.
Dealing with Victims
From a human standpoint, identify the fact that you are an autonomous agent, and your decisions do not affect them in the slightest unless they want it to. From a biblical standpoint, identify that God is ultimately in charge of who get in and who gets out, not them. From a practical standpoint, ignore them. There may be underlying psychological issues that are affecting them that need to be fixed before they can engage you as anything more than an agent for scratching their validation itch.
3. The Social Justice
There are quite a few progressive Christians out there today that realize the mysoginistic ways of the Bible are not necessarily the best thing ever, but may not be ready or willing to deconvert. If you post on social justice issues, such as Homosexual Bigotry, feminism, or other social justice issues that are currently in flux, they may be inclined to agree and defend your position. I used to hate these people (as a fundamentalist), but have come to love them; they are simply cherry picking the better bits of the bible (rather than just some of the good bits that GOP-style fundamentalists pick).
Dealing with the Social Justice
Remember that not everyone is against you on everything just because you’re an atheist. We can still work together for a better world one step at a time, hand in hand with believers. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian, but didn’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth. He certainly worked alongside atheists for the cause, and its okay that religion changes to fit social issues. 50 years from now, we will tell our children about Socialized Medicine, Gay Marriage, and the War on Contraception, and they won’t believe us, because by then the bible will have said it all along.
4. The Hit-And-Run Theists
After coming out, there will most likely be a few people in your life that will attempt to convince you that your decision was woefully short-sighted, but aren’t really interested in discussing why. These people operate like snipers: They take a few shots then flee the scene, in order to not be nailed down on any particular they may have said, or leave up a wall of text (pictured left, link) with nothing more than inconsistent ramblings denoting a firm lack of research, concern, or engagement.
These people usually have absolutely no relationship with you, or they imagine that they do. It may be a distant relative, a very old friend, or some other person otherwise uninvolved and unaware of anything leading up to your deconversion. Nor are they interested in these things.
On several occasions, conversations which began as a hit-and-run attempts turned into meaningful ignorance-killing discussions. What may be initiated on a pretense of running, when called out may result in learning and discussion. Ignorance is not a crime, and should not be treated with contempt. Slander, hatred, or bullying (you’re going to hell), however, should be treated on different terms.
How to deal with Hit-And-Run Theists
Depending on your relationship with these people, ignoring them or using them as fodder for pointing out inconsistencies in traditional theistic logic are two good strategies. I wouldn’t recommend taking anything they have to say seriously, or expecting them to take anything you have to say seriously. They are not interested in you, in truth, or in arriving there; they want to self-congratulate themselves for pointing you back in the right direction, and it certainly isn’t their fault for spreading ‘truth’ and then you making up your damned mind to ignore the beautiful wisdom they shared.
Keep in mind, however, that one of the most beneficial things for atheists (and people) in general is a dissemination of information to people who are ignorant. Taking the time to engage people who still say a lot of nothing can be beneficial if they’re willing to learn, and even if they’re not, perhaps someone who’s reading is.
5. The Heady Theist
Often people who care about truth are capable of actual substantial discussion on the topic of God. These include people who have researched other religions, or are familiar with critical thinking and logic. They don’t judge, they don’t get angry or bent out of shape when you disagree, they evaluate and converse.
Every so often I have met people like this, and we have a blast. I learn about myself, my shortcomings, and gain respect for the other side. Thus, these theists allow the same thing to occur in a deconvert as what should happen with theists: a mutual respect despite wildly conflicting beliefs.
How to deal with Heady Theists
Sometimes you aren’t in the mood to talk theology, sometimes they aren’t. Be sure to be up front if you aren’t in the mood to defend yourself (much like described in Part 1), and don’t push them away with a constant badgering or exploitation of their mind. Have as much respect for them as they show you. Beyond that, Heady Theists help you to learn about your own beliefs, and are also the most likely to join you in freedom . For that reason, I highly encourage meeting with them repeatedly, learning and engaging them, and seeking freedom for them.
Don’t monopolize, however, as these are often leaders in various church groups, and may have commitments to the people they already agree with.
6. The True Friends
When you deconvert, there might just be a few people who stick around through it. They can separate what you believe from loving you and being there for you. I was fortunate enough to have two members from my bible study that I still count as true friends, that are there for me and I them.
You might have a few conversations about God and whatnot with them, you might not, depending on how open minded they are. Keep in mind that theism is a gateway belief to compartmentalization, so they may very well believe you are going to hell, but not act like it in any significant way.
How to deal with True Friends
Keep them! Why not? There are times to be combative, and times not to be, but there’s nothing wrong with someone seeing you through a huge life change and still coming out and hanging around on the other side of it. Let them set the terms of discussion, and be clear if you do or don’t want to talk about reasons for your deconversion. They might understand your change the best, and they can often provide valuable insight into your own missteps or problems.
7. The Apologist
Fuck these wastes of consciousness. These people are not worth the air they breathe, but by an unfortunate cosmic accident were given the ability to live and interact with you. These are inhuman weasels who care nothing about you, your life, your past, your mind, your reasons, your friendships, your beliefs, your parents, your future or seeking the truth. They want a fucking notch on their bedpost of you ‘coming back to the fold’ and will use any and all means necessary to achieve this, including deliberate falsehood, emotional appeals and manipulation, rhetorical tricks, gish gallops, and personal attack.
I say these things because you need to have your guard up against these shits. They aren’t interested in truth; they have started with their conclusion, and damned if you aren’t already wrong. They don’t do discussion: they do debate, and want to go for ‘points’ rather than knowledge. The video below is a recording from Dr. Robert Price debating Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists.
How to deal with Apologists
Do not respect them. Do not expect them to respect you. Treat them as a violent animal, with distance and contempt. These are not the same as a Heady Theist, who cares about and evaluates what you have to say; they are only interested in the end goal, and have started from their conclusion. If you give them any emotional vulnerability or trust, they will seek to manipulate this into a scoring point for them, to make you feel like shit for your legitimate and more honest choice.
If you encounter them in real life, agree to a formal debate or speak with zero emotional investment. Identify their fallacies and attempts at manipulation while it is happening. Don’t give them respect, don’t give them the upper hand. The reason I am an anti-theist is because of a street-preaching apologist who hammered me the moment I gave him any sort of emotional vulnerability. Don’t make my mistake.
If on facebook, do the same thing. Identify their circularity, identify emotional appeals, and point out that you aren’t into debating; you’re into discussing truth and seeking it out (unless you are, then go for it. But in that case it might should be formalized). Remember these are not people, they are machines who are seeking to manipulate you into being backed into a corner. Don’t be, and don’t give ground.
In summary, change the way you react to people based on the person they are. These are very general categories, and might not reflect what you experience. If you have questions about a specific type, leave it in the comments section, or if you have interacted with these people before.